Dram Shop Laws and Social Host Liability in North Carolina

The winter holiday season is upon us, which means that many people throughout North Carolina and around the country will soon be celebrating with friends and family, if they have not already started. Between family get-togethers, office holiday parties, and meeting old friends out on the town, many such celebrations include alcohol—far too much alcohol, in some cases, which too often leads to serious personal injuries and even death.

By this point, we are all well aware of the dangers of driving drunk, but it still happens regularly, especially around the holidays. And unfortunately, drunk drivers still cause thousands of accidents each year. In fact, more than 11,600 people were killed in crashes involving intoxicated drivers in 2020, according to federal estimates.

Every drunk driving death is preventable, as well as nearly all drunk driving crashes. When such a crash occurs, injured victims generally have the right to pursue financial compensation from the drunk driver. In some cases, however, there might be other liable parties as well, and a qualified North Carolina personal injury lawyer can help identify them.

North Carolina Dram Shop Law

The term “dram shop” has roots in the 18th-century method of portioning alcohol, a single portion of which was called a “dram.” Bars, taverns, and pubs would serve drams of alcohol to their patrons. Today, the phrase is most commonly used as a colloquial description of laws that address the responsibility of bars, taverns, and other establishments when it comes to serving a patron who goes on to cause injuries or damage as the result of being intoxicated.

Dram shop laws in some states allow those who have been hurt in a drunk driving crash to seek compensation from an establishment that overserved the driver prior to the crash. In North Carolina, however, the state’s dram shop law is a bit narrower in focus. Under North Carolina General Statutes § 18B-121, an establishment can only be held liable under the North Carolina dram shop law if the driver who caused the crash is underage and the establishment served them anyway.

It is against the law in North Carolina for establishments to sell alcohol to anyone who is already visibly intoxicated, no matter how old they are. In practice, however, a lawsuit or claim based on the dram shop law is typically reserved for cases involving an underage driver.

Social Host Liability Doctrine

There is another potential avenue through which a victim of a drunk driving crash could seek additional compensation. Social host liability is similar in some ways to the liability allowed under dram shop laws, but social host liability can be much broader, and it can apply to anyone who provides alcohol to guests instead of just to establishments. The social host liability doctrine in North Carolina is the product of decades of court decisions that created a strong legal precedent, highlighted by two North Carolina Supreme Court decisions in the 1990s.

In its 1992 ruling in Hart v. Ivey, the North Carolina Supreme Court clarified three specific factors that apply in social host liability cases. In 1995, the Court reiterated those same factors in its decision in Camalier v. Jeffries. Specifically, the Court determined that in order to establish negligence and liability of a social host for a drunk driving crash, a victim will need to show three things:

  1. The host in question provided alcohol to a guest who went on to cause the crash.
  2. The guest was already intoxicated, and the host was aware or should have been aware of it.
  3. The host knew that the guest planned to drive afterward.

Social hosts that could be held liable include employers who throw office parties, parents who allow underage children to drink in their home, and establishments that sell alcohol. Victims of any age can seek to hold a social host liable when such circumstances apply.

Putting the Pieces Together

Unfortunately, collecting compensation under North Carolina’s social host liability laws is not always easy. For example, it can be challenging to prove what the social host should have known as they were providing alcohol to guests. There is nothing illegal about providing alcohol to a person over age 21, and if the person was not showing visible signs of intoxication, the host is not likely to be held liable. With this in mind, many social host liability cases rely heavily on witness testimony that the eventual at-fault driver was knowingly overserved by the host.

A North Carolina Drunk Driving Liability Lawyer Can Help

If you or someone you love is hurt in a drunk driving crash this holiday season, reach out to an experienced North Carolina personal injury attorney at Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp to get the help you need. Our team will do everything we can to give the best possible chance of a favorable outcome, just as we did for a North Carolina man who was injured by a drunk driver on a rural road. Call (833) 997-1774 for a free consultation and case evaluation.